Tech Transformers

Can the ‘world’s smallest PC’ take on Mac, Windows?

World's smallest PC may rival Mac, Windows

A start-up claiming to have built "the world's smallest computer" has reached its 200,000 euros ($214,413) crowdfunding goal in its bid to take on some of the biggest players in the PC space.

Finnish firm Solu has created a 10 by 10 centimeter square touch-screen computer with its own operating system (OS) based on Linux.

Solu does away with the typical features on a PC - a start menu and separate windows, for example - and instead allows users to zoom in and out of apps. The box can be plugged into a screen in order to make it a larger display.


But the key feature, according to founder Kristoffer Lawson, is that the whole operating system is cloud-based. When the device is connected to the internet, everything saved on Solu is backed up in the cloud.

And it even works offline because the device pulls data from the cloud while it is connected to the internet. When a user is offline, they can use Solu and when it reconnects to the internet, any changes are uploaded back to the cloud.

It also means Solu users can collaborate with each other. If two people have Solu, they can work together across a number of apps - similar to Google Docs or Slack, but not just confined to one app.

"It is about connecting people and teams to one another. The desktop experience is based on a 30-year paradigm invented before the internet, before companies changed to ones where we are working fast on small teams," Lawson, told CNBC at the Slush technology conference in Helsinki, Finland.

App shortage?

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The device costs 349 euros on crowdfunding website Kickstarter, where Solu has raised over its 200,000 euro target. But unlike PCs now, Lawson has a set up a subscription model where users can pay 19 euros a month to access two terabytes of cloud storage. The internal hard drive of the device is only 32 gigabytes.

But, having its own operating system presents Solu with some challenges. It only has a handful of apps at the moment, although it is still six months away from being shipped. And it will need to convince developers to get on board with the project in order to have apps that are attractive for users.

Lawson said that a lack of apps won't be an issue because many people use web-based apps and services like Facebook or Netflix via a browser. It also said Android apps are compatible, but these need to be downloaded via a third-party app store rather than the official Google Play store.

Windows, Mac ‘last century’

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As it looks to disrupt the PC market, it will need to dislodge giants such as Lenovo, HP and Apple, and convince people to use the new style of operating system, a challenge Lawson admits to facing.

"Initially people do resist change but actually this is in some sense even easier to use than a Mac or Windows because you are just zooming in and out on different applications," Lawson said.

"So once you get used to that, it feels like previous desktops, like Windows and the Mac, feel like last century."